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False Labor

By Wintergreen

What to do about prodromal labor…aka “false” labor? We can call it what we want. Mostly, it’s just annoying, irritating, confusing, and exhausting. If we’re followers of childbirth, we’ve heard these suggestions:

  • Get moving. Movement may help start labor.

  • Have sex. Sex is often recommended for getting labor started.

  • Try to relax.

  • Eat something spicy.

  • Down a little castor oil.

  • Schedule an acupuncture session.

  • Ask your doctor to strip your membranes.

  • Go herbal.

Any, all, or none of those might work. The frustration associated with prodromal labors is pretty intense…so fathers and mothers at Birthing Better developed a skill that worked every time it was used, because it didn’t focus on “getting your labor going.” Instead the skill focused on living life until labor actually picked up. It all boiled down to living in the present and letting nature take its course. There is no risk associated with prodromal labor, so why are people stressed about it?

There are two major reasons women do all these things. One, they are sick of being pregnant, and just want labor to get going. Two, they are worried their doctor will want to medically induce them if they don’t go into active labor by a certain date.

One way or another, labor will eventually get going. Too often, when women try to kickstart their labor and expend so much energy and anxiety, they end up exhausted when labor gets active.

This fatigue can have a huge impact on birth. Unless labor is short and sweet, once it progresses, women get tired, and so do babies. This can lead to increased medical interventions.

The families at Birthing Better looked at this issue differently. Instead of trying to get labor going, we focused on making certain we did not go into labor tired. And, therefore, we developed an incredibly simple skill that, when followed, works every time. How do we know it works? Because the woman isn’t tired when labor becomes progressive.

“What do you want to do now?” It’s such a simple question, yet so profound in the scope of childbirth. It’s a sentence the pregnant woman’s partner, relative, or friend needs to ask, ask, and ask until active labor is established. In fact, women actually ask this to themselves, but not consistently or consciously.

How do we know that? Because women too often respond to that question with:

“I don’t know.”

“I want my labor to get going.”

“I want to do X, Y, and Z to get my labor going.”

“Stop asking me!”

“I’ve tried everything.”

Why did Birthing Better families focus on this one sentence? Two reasons. First, some in the field of natural birth were advocating “natural inductions.” That didn’t make sense to Birthing Better families who wanted a natural birth. It just didn’t seem right to try to intervene. So, Birthing Better families wanted their labors to unfold naturally and not use interventions…even if the intervention was considered to be “natural.”

Second, if we could not avoid medical interventions, we didn’t want to be exhausted and end up undergoing a greater range of interventions.

There’s a trick to using this skill effectively: You have to actually use it! That means staying very present and not “future-tripping.” No kidding, no joking. This is one of the most positive and profound skills, because false labor can continue, off and on, for days.

How hard is it to utilize this skill over a few days, or even a week? Well, what else is there to do? If a woman doesn’t consciously choose what she wants to do, then she’s wandering around, filling time “waiting.” That is what exhausts her.

Common Knowledge Trust (and the hundreds of Birthing Better fathers and mothers who developed all the Birthing Better skills) found this one skill made the difference between a positive birth and a discouraging one. No woman wants to suffer, and when a woman can’t sleep for days, becomes anxious about labor getting started, and feels exhausted, how can she expect to handle the hard work ahead?

This is what using this skill sounds like:

Day 1:

“The contractions are just coming and going, and I’m frustrated. What should I do?”

“What do you want to do now?”

“Hmm…I’d like to have a nice bath.”


(40 minutes later) “I wish labor would really get going.”

“What would you like to do now?”

“I don’t know, and stop asking me.”

“You don’t want to go into labor tired. Take a few minutes and think about what you want to do now.”

“I want to go for a walk.”


(90 minutes later) “It still hasn’t gotten going”

“What do you want to do now?”

“Would you please shut up?”

“No, I don’t want you to go into labor tired, so please let’s work together doing this. If we don’t do this then we’ll just be hanging around. Would you like a massage? Go to the movies? Have sex? Visit friends?”

“Okay. Let’s go to the museum.”

Throughout the day, the woman and her support person stay focused on what she wants to do just then. It is what it is. It’s still not progressing, but the woman is living life. The day can be loaded with activities, rest, being together, not rushing, settling down, and settling in to however long it takes.

Most women who use this skill will sleep well at night… and if they wake up the next day and false labor is still happening, they get better and better at self-regulating, much like so many second-time moms, who say: “This time, I didn’t get into labor so early and just went about living. I didn’t want to go into labor tired like last time.”

Yes, the “natural induction” of labor is a set of skills. How does this Birthing Better skill differ? Anecdotally, women who try starting labor are much more likely to become tired, exhausted, and frustrated, and focus more on getting labor moving rather than on doing the labor when it unfolds. Anecdotally, women and men who repeatedly use this one simple sentence—“What do I/you want to do now?”—report that when labor starts, they are rested, and they have taken care of themselves. They feel incredibly proud that they let their baby and body get ready together. Most of these women have between 6 and 12 hours of active labor.